As usual, Ekaterin thought, as she paused at the top of the stairs and looked down at the organised chaos below, what might have started out as a simple idea, had, in the hands of her husband, become something... else. Yes definitely else. In fact it could no longer really be considered her idea at all. Not that it was his exactly, either. It seemed to have taken on a life all its own.
Ekaterin had been grubbing in the garden, with little Aral and Helen beside her wielding wooden trowels designed for toddler hands, when Laisa raised the topic.
“Did you not want to change the tradition?” she had asked.
“Whatever for?” replied Ekaterin calmly.
“You and Miles have broken with so many traditions, I just wondered. Aral,Piotr – Piotr, Aral – down through the centuries. It just seems a little dull, that’s all.”
Ekaterin knew full well it hadn’t been quite like that, Aral being the second son, after all, who’d only become heir-apparent after his older brother died in Mad Yuri’s war. Come to think of it, Gregor’s own name hadn’t exactly followed the tradition, either. None of these arguments were aired, though. She understood the principle behind the complaint, and put on her best sympathetic face.
“You’ve been talking to Cordelia, I see.”
“Hmmm... not really,” said Laisa. “It’s Gregor I’ve been talking with.”
Ekaterin turned round and raised an eyebrow in query.
“Apparently the Council of Counts can be expected to have a collective heart attack if our first isn’t named Serge after the great hero of Escobar.”
“I see.” She did indeed see; Miles may not have explained, but Cordelia certainly had. “What do they do on Komarr?” she asked. “You did have a Komarran-style betrothal; is there something you can use?”
And so the idea had been born: a Naming Day Ceremony – now seen in the last countdown flurry of excited preparations, there on the ground floor of the Imperial Palace. A Komarran Naming Day Ceremony...Barrayar-style.
The first break with tradition had come when Miles had been put in charge, Alys having declined the honour of arranging the auspicious occasion. That had outraged all the high Vor matrons, but with quirky zeal, Byerly Vorrutyer had researched past social annals until he found some obscure precedent for it.
“A boy’s celebrations are the remit of the male side of the family,” he opined. “Were the baby female....”
Ekaterin supposed that would have fallen to her, Cordelia eschewing all responsibility, if anything with more force than Alys had. Fortunately the Emperor and his wife were having a boy first, not a girl (though Ekaterin thought Gregor might not have objected to a daughter being named after his dead mother).
In the middle of the bustle below stood her husband, directing an army of servants, while little Helen rode on his shoulders. Ekaterin glided down the stairs, and, avoiding Miles’ notice, slipped quietly into the Palace library, where she curled into a red leather wingback chair, and opened her gardening file. Let him deal with the details; he liked stage managing. She would while away her time putting the final details to her plans for the traditional Barrayaran garden Gregor had commissioned last Fall. If she planted a second clump of bloody puffwad just there....
Ekaterin surfaced again when the tea trolley was delivered, followed swiftly by Nikki who bounced in looking for cream cakes.
“There weren’t any left in the hall,” he said indignantly. “The workmen scoffed the lot! Uncle Miles said you’d have some though.” He reached for a chocolate éclair with one hand, while the other selected a cream meringue.
“One cake only, Nikki,” Ekaterin said firmly, “and not until you’ve had a sandwich or two. Here –” She handed him a small plate.
“May I join?”
Ekaterin beamed at her father-in-law as he sat in the chair opposite, young Aral on his knee. The two had been nearly inseparable this visit; it had been an eye-opener to realise just how much attention the Count was prepared to lavish on his grandchildren. It did not match his public image. She had expected Cordelia to be interested in the children; but her attitude was actually quite cavalier. In Aral, though? All his pent up longings for children now were lavished on hers.
“Much better having grandchildren,” he’d said one day when she’d ventured a tentative question. “I have the time for them now. I always felt I was shorting Miles, somehow; I was just so busy.”
She watched in fascination as young Aral and old selected sandwiches and built a little tower on their plate, before systematically demolishing it as piece by piece the edifice was eaten. The Count sensed her fascinated gaze, looked up and grinned.
“Future Architect of the Imperium,” he said. “Should be encouraged; something other than a military career would do the world some good – not to mention the District.”
“I see,” she murmured, holding out the plate of biscuits. These, however, just vanished down their throats. Evidently the stuff of empires was not made of sugar so much as cheese.
“And Helen? What useful career did you think of for our daughter?” she enquired.
Aral shook his head. “Nothing useful, I’m afraid. She’s Vorkosigan through and through, I’m afraid, and destined for the military. Not that that won’t serve Gregor in its own way.”
Tea done, the three boys left, to be shortly replaced by Aunt Vorthys and Alys, debating seating arrangements. Ekaterin tucked her file down the side of her chair and watched. Alys had said she wouldn’t get involved, but seemed to have allowed herself to be drawn in regardless.
“Definitely not Vorlavenall, there,” Alys said, pointing to a chart. “Not unless we want to start a war. His second wife and Vorpender’s sister are sworn enemies; and we can’t move her to the back row (not that I wouldn’t want to - her dress sense is truly appalling) without offending the Countess Vormannelly who’s bosom buddies with Peony Vorpender.
Aunt Vorthys produced a coloured translucent sheet which she placed over the chart Alys had spread on the coffee table in front of them. The two women bent over it in study.
“No, not that way,” the Professora mused, before replacing one sheet with another of a different colour. “Perhaps this –”
Ekaterin listened in fascination. That chart resembled one she had seen Miles use on occasion – inherited from his grandfather, old Count Piotr, he’d said. She wondered....
This way and that, the kaleidoscope of coloured squares formed patterns on the page, until at last they declared themselves satisfied and took it out. Ekaterin followed. The afternoon had given way to early evening and order was being drawn out of the chaos of preparations in the Great Hall. Great swags of blue, red and silver bunting festooned the room. A horseshoe of seating drew the eye to a huge ornate fountain in marble and gilt, beside which were two red plush chairs and a bassinet. Miles still stood, clipboard in hand, this time directing a lone page boy where to take a box of toilet paper.
“Bright pink flowered toilet paper, Miles?” she asked.
He grinned up at her – the exact same grin his father had given her earlier, she realised.
“Never disregard the plumbing, my dear – especially the drains.” But he ruined the effect when he sighed, “though you’re right about the colour. Gregor won’t like it; but Helen managed to stuff all the white rolls down the toilets, when I wasn’t looking, and block them. The only replacements to be found were pink.”
“Why the fountain?” she asked.
“You know, m’dear,” he confided, “I don’t really know. Laisa said something about dipping the baby in water. Maybe it has something to do with Komarr being a domed world. Anyway, I thought a fountain would do the trick.”
“And the name?” Ekaterin asked. It was, to her mind the strangest part of this whole Naming Day ceremony. Miles of all people, was to name the baby, as ‘Godfather’ (whatever that was) to the child.
“Ah... the name – what’s in a name? Fletchir, perhaps? What do you think? Should we honour the peace we share with our Cetagandan neighbours. Or should he be called Bel in honour of those oh-so-lucrative trade treaties with Beta?”
“Miles...” Ekaterin warned.
“No, don’t worry, my love,” Miles continued soberly. “There’s really only one name he could rightly be: Ezar.”